When black bears first emerge from hibernation, they survive mainly on emerging green vegetation in wetlands. As the season progresses, there are more and more food options to choose from, including a favorite – the corm, or underground bulb-like storage structure, of Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Even though they are large, somewhat lumbering creatures, black bears dig up and remove these corms as if they had a tiny tool designed just for this purpose. They barely disturb the earth, leaving only very small holes as evidence of their presence. A friend of mine witnessed this just outside his window one spring day, and could not believe the delicacy with which the bear extracted these morsels of food from the ground. Apparently the calcium oxalate crystals in Jack-in-the-Pulpit that cause the burning sensation in human mouths doesn’t affect bears, at least not enough to protect the plant.
Early saxifrage (Micranthes virginiensis) is well named – it flowers early in the spring, and is often found growing in or on rocks. (The name saxifrage derives from the Latin words “saxum” meaning rock and “frangere,” to break. When the small seeds of saxifrage lodge in rock crevices and germinate, the plant looks as though it split the rock.) If you look closely you’ll see that early saxifrage’s flower stalk has many hairs – they are glandular and their stickiness is thought to deter ants from taking nectar from the flowers, so that it can attract more efficient pollinators.
Even in the rain, Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum) can brighten one’s day. Its species name, “undulatum” aptly describes its wavy-margined petals and its common name reflects the splash of pink in the center of the white flower. This member of the Lily family likes acid woods and bogs. Look for it in mature, second-growth forests of Red Maple, Paper Birch, Eastern Hemlock and Eastern White Pine. Wildflowers likely to be found where Painted Trillium grows include Starflower, Sarsaparilla, Canada Mayflower, Indian Cucumber-root, Partridgeberry and Goldthread.
If you find a blossoming Trout Lily in the woods it is quite likely that you will also find one of its most common pollinators, the Red-necked False Blister Beetle (Asclera ruficollis), on it. Ardent pollen eaters, this group of beetles obtain their common name because many species cause blisters when pinched or squashed against skin. Adults mate on flower heads during pollen feeding. Both sexes feed on pollen, which acts as an attractant, but the female will not accept the male until her gut is packed full of pollen. She stores the pollen in a special intestinal sack in which an enzyme causes the pollen to partially germinate — this causes the indigestible covering of the pollen grain to rupture. She then digests the contents of the pollen grain, which she uses to manufacture eggs.
Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) is one of our earliest woodland wildflowers to blossom, and thus an important source of nectar and pollen for the earliest foraging insects. Pink lines (“bee guides”) on each of its five petals lead pollinators to the center of the flower, where the nectar is located. The pollinator in this image, Andrena erigeniae, is one of the more common species of bees that visits Spring Beauty in the early spring. Notice the slightly pink pollen she has gathered into the pollen basket on her hind leg. If you’re interested in spending time observing the series of different insect pollinators that visit Spring Beauty as the season progresses, there’s a golden opportunity for you. If you go to http://springbeauties.wordpress.com/ you can participate as a citizen scientist volunteer and participate in their survey.
Marsh Marigold’s (Caltha palustris) common name is partially accurate – it does grow in marshes, but it is not closely related to marigolds. It is also known as Cowslip, a name which is also misleading, as it doesn’t refer to cows losing their footing when walking on this plant. According to The Secrets of Wildflowers by Jack Sanders, the word literally means “cow slop,” or cow dung, as both the English cowslip, for which it was named, as well as cow paddies were found in the same pastures. People used to believe that butter derived its yellow coloring from the Cowslip flowers that cows ate. In fact, like many other plants in the Buttercup family, it contains irritants that cause most grazers, including cows, to avoid the plant. Humans do eat the young leaves, but boil them several times to rid them of acrid irritants that could be poisonous.
All members of the Poppy family have milky or colored sap, and Bloodroot (Sanguinarea canadensis) is no exception. Its sap is as red as its petals are white, and was used as a source of dye by Native Americans (for clothing and baskets) as well as for paint and as an insect repellent. The individual flower of Bloodroot lasts only two days, but on these two days, it reigns supreme amongst the early ephemerals.
The bright yellow splashes of Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) amidst the drab brown landscape this time of year are eye-catching, to say the least. Like Hepatica, Coltsfoot began blooming about a month early this year. Easily mistaken for a Dandelion, Coltsfoot usually flowers first, and unlike Dandelion’s leaves which appear before the flowers area evident, Coltsfoot’s leaves don’t appear until seeds have set.
Hepatica, a member of the Buttercup family, is one of the first woodland wildflowers to appear in the spring, sometimes when there is still snow on the ground. It is currently flowering in northern New England, as much as a month earlier than usual. Hepatica’s stem and flower buds are covered with dense, glistening, silvery hairs. Some botanists theorize that these hairs may, in fact, help the plant retain heat during cold March and April days and nights. Others see them as a deterrent to crawling insects, such as ants, which steal their nectar, given the chance — flying insects, including early flies, bees and butterflies, are more efficient pollinators. (Even if Hepatica isn’t visited by insects, it can fertilize itself.) Named after the Greek word for liver (“hepar”),due to its three-lobed, evergreen leaves which resemble the shape of a human liver, Hepatica, also known as Liverwort, was thought to be effective in treating liver disease.
Five years ago the U. S. Senate designated the last week of June as “Pollinator Week” in honor of all the bees, bats, butterflies, beetles, birds and other creatures responsible for transporting pollen from one plant to another plant of the same species for over 75% of all flowering plants (wind does most of the rest). In the U.S. pollination produces nearly $20 billion worth of products annually – think chocolate, almonds, apples, coffee, blueberries, etc.
flower deserves to be looked at under a hand lens, but perhaps none more so
than Miterwort, also known as Bishop’s Cap (Mitella diphylla). The delicate arms radiating out from the
flower’s center bear an uncanny resemblance to a 4-pointed snowflake. The fruit
of this member of the Saxifrage family resembles a mitre, or bishop’s cap;
hence, its common names.
in the spring, before trees leaf out and shade the forest floor, and when the ground
is nutrient-rich and moist, spring ephemerals – wildflowers that bloom and
disappear within a month or two – appear.
These beautiful woodland wildflowers take advantage of this time of year,
before competition begins in earnest. In
order of appearance, the photographs are of:
BLOODROOT, Sanguinaria canadensis; BLUE COHOSH, Caulophyllum
thalictroides; CUT-LEAVED TOOTHWORT, Cardamine concatenata; DUTCHMAN’S
BREECHES, Dicentra cucullaria; HEPATICA, Hepatica nobilis; LARGE-FLOWERED
BELLWORT, Uvularia grandifolia; PURPLE TRILLIUM, Trillium erectum; TRAILING
ARBUTUS, Epigaea repens; TROUT LILY, Erythronium americanum; WILD GINGER,